Henry Winkler, best known as “The Fonz” in the popular TV series Happy Days, will be the featured speaker at Hartford Library’s annual fundraiser, “One ‘happy’ Big Summer Night” on June 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. Winkler, who graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1970, is an actor whose credits include Broadway’s The Dinner Party, a director whose projects include Memories of Me , a producer who shows include MacGyver, author of the popular Hank Zipzer, The World’s Greatest Underachiever children’s novels and a philanthropist. He is also Honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his services to children with special education needs, successes he has enjoyed despite suffering from dyslexia.
You have been so open about suffering from dyslexia, a learning disability that for too long was a reason to be embarrassed. Did the condition make you more or less avid about learning?
Less when I was younger, but now, as an adult, much more interested about learning. I just got off the treadmill where I am reading a thriller. I don’t know why but that kind of book seems to work for me. My brain sails through thrillers.
What are you reading?
That’s a good question, I’ll have to check. I like authors like Vince Flynn and Daniel Silva.
Tell me about the first time you went to a library.
The library was just three blocks from my house. It was a local branch. I think I either still have my original library card or I gave it to Emerson College, where I got my undergraduate degree. What’s amazing is that, as “The Fonz” in one of the episodes of Happy Days, I say to Richie, “You get a library card for free and you can meet chicks there.” The number of library cards issued after that episode went up 500 percent.
Speaking of the library, what will you speak about when you come here to Hartford Public Library’s “One Big Summer Night?”
About my journey as a husband, a father, an actor, producer and an author who, with a partner, has written 23 novels and who is in the bottom 3 percent in terms of intelligence.
Did you know our governor, Dannel P. Malloy, is dyslexic?
I do. And I know he just helped pass gun control in Connecticut and Iadmire him. Not because we are dyslexic together but because he is a man who was elected and does the right thing.
I know some of your teachers were less than supportive when you struggled through school. Do you fight the urge to go back to the teachers who thought you were just dumb and say, “Look at me now?”
Once upon a time, I had a need to say that to teachers who thought I was a throw-away. Now, after time, it doesn’t matter. I have met incredible teachers who really understand these children. The other kind of teacher still exists though, the one who says, “You should know this by your age.” I don’t know and will never know things like “theorems” nor have I ever used that word in a sentence. When people told me “you are lazy, you are stupid, you are not living up to your potential,” I gave a lot of power away thinking someone knew more than I did.
When did you find out you were dyslexic?
I never did. My son was tested in the third grade and everything they said about him was true about me. It was hard to learn scripts and things. It was an embarrassment. Reading out loud was my worst nightmare.
How interesting that someone who was so challenged in school decided to write children’s books, specifically your Hank Zipzer series? What was the impetus?
What is so interesting is you go into a school and you see this little kid who can read but won’t do homework. I know at 67 what works. His or her willingness and love and zest for reading is going to push him or her out front, further than her book report will.
Most everyone identifies you as “The Fonz.” Are you OK with that at this point in your life?
I never regret it. But not everyone knows me as that character. Often when I go into a school, they don’t know me at all but, by the time I am done talking with them in a gym or an auditorium, everyone wants to be dyslexic and they all want a hug. We laugh a lot.
What is going to happen next to Hank?
There will be a new series with my co-author Lin Oliver, and Hank will be in second grade. It will be a fabulous way to bring the young reader into the comedy of Hank.
I know you have several TV projects now—is there a role you dream of playing?
I would like to play a mute, to create a life with everything but words. I don’t know why that is so appealing. But everything I do is instinctive. The role I wish I could do again as a more mature actor now is Heroes with Sally Field.
In this day of Internet and Kindles and iPads, do you think books will become obsolete?
(Laughing) Yes, because you don’t hear pages turn and you don’t have lights in your face if the other person is reading and doesn’t want to disturb her husband. Seriously, I have to have a real book in my hand because every book I have ever read is a triumph for me, a success. But there is room for all of them.
What is something no one knows about you?
After all this, I’m not sure. But I love dark chocolate, no more than 67 percent cocoa.
For ticket information for “One ‘happy” Big Summer Night,” visit www.hplct.org.
Find MaryEllen Fillo’s blog at courantblogs.com/java, friend her at www.facebook.com/maryellen.fillo.3 and follow her on Twitter @maryellenfillo. You can hear her on WDRC AM and FM on Friday mornings and see her on Fox CT on Thursdays.